On Black Friday, Growth is There – But You Gotta Pay to Play

Well folks, the data is in. And it looks like Black Friday 2016 was a record-breaking day for online sales. According to today’s report released by Adobe, e-commerce saw a 22% year-over-year lift in revenue, with “shoppers hitting the buy button at unprecedented levels across all devices.”

But this year, things were a little different for marketers. While it’s an outdated story for 2016, it’s a new one for this holiday season – Holiday 2016 was the first year without right rail ads on Google. Paid search was essentially a blank slate, in terms of understanding competition, necessary bid levels, and the impact on traffic volume with limited real estate available.

There were a few important factors that we knew would impact performance heading into this critical weekend: fewer text ads on the SERP, continually increasing PLA exposure from Google, and the anticipated peak of mobile activity. Below, we dive into each of those factors to see the results, and how strategies surrounding them lead PMX Agency clients to see an indexed average lift of 27% in revenue year-over-year on Black Friday.

Fewer Text Ads on the SERP:

The PMX team knew that on desktops, there would be fewer ads served this year; and on mobile, if your ad isn’t in top positioning, shoppers simply don’t see it. For these reasons, we went into Black Friday with an aggressive plan. Sophisticated bid indexing strategies set into action included: data analysis related to anticipated conversion increases, geo-driven performance data, and even weather impact. These strategies proved effective, and we were able to grab the necessary exposure to attract shoppers. PMX clients’ average position for text ads in Google went from 2.2 in 2015 to 1.6 this year on Black Friday, driving impressions up 78%. But, you had to pay to play. Costs per click (CPCs) were also up, at times as much as 30%.

Increasing Google Shopping Exposure:

With PLA exposure constantly migrating between the top right of the SERP on Google, to above text ads on the left, and both above and below the position 1 text ad on mobile, we knew that like last year, PLAs would be a critical place to grab market share and traffic increases. Data feeds were cleaned up, and complex campaign structure and bidding strategies were implemented to ensure that the right holiday-prioritized products got exposure on the correct search queries. Again, we saw very positive results. Click volume was up 31% on PLAs for PMX clients. That too came with a price tag, though, as PLA CPCs tipped over $1.

Peak of Mobile Activity:

Remember when we talked about mobile as if it were an option, or as a separate channel strategy entirely? That’s certainly not the case anymore! Several reports showed that mobile shopping hit peak numbers, having its first $1 Billion day on Black Friday 2016. With 64% of our Black Friday paid search click volume now on mobile (up from 57% on Black Friday in 2015), optimizing for exposure in the critical top positions on the mobile SERP is now the focus. On Black Friday 2015, PMX clients’ ads averaged position 1.8, but this year we stuck at 1.4, ensuring that more often than not, the ads were in position one. But once again, (are you sensing a theme here?) it didn’t come cheap. Mobile clicks were up $.25 year-over-year across PMX clients.

The most important part of this analysis is how we use it, as the teams prep for a successful Cyber Monday. A fresh look at bid strategies will be critical to win the click on Monday, and continue the early season growth that is so critical to the full Holiday season’s success for brands. Stay tuned for Cyber Monday results this coming week!

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